Historically low numbers of king salmon is prompting the most severe restriction ever on the Kuskokwim River.
The data on king salmon is clear to fishery managers.
Historically low numbers are expected again on the Kuskokwim River prompting some difficult decisions.
“We’ve never seen management actions this severe on the Kuskokwim,” said Director of Fisheries for the Kuskokwim Native Association Dan Gillikin.
The river will be closed to all salmon fishing beginning on May 20 with opportunities to catch other types of salmon later in the season.
“It's going to be a hardship, there will be no king salmon directed fishery on the Kuskokwim,” said Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Co-Chair Beverly Hoffman.
The opportunities available for salmon fishing will largely be determined by the number of kings seen at the midpoint of the run around the middle of June.
“That would be a key decision point in being able to provide opportunity with gill nets recognizing that some king salmon are going to be taken,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Regional supervisor for the Kuskokwim John Linderman.
A piece of gear most subsistence fishermen aren’t used to using on the Kuskokwim will be available for the first time this year.
“The change that the board of fish made was to make dip nets a legal gear-type to target salmon species,” Linderman said.
The hope is that enough king salmon escape nets to spawn up river to revive their numbers in later years. It’s a sacrifice that will be felt by everyone on the river this year but also one that is largely understood.
“I think people all up and down the Kuskokwim, they cherish the Chinook salmon and they want to pass that opportunity on to their children and grandchildren and so forth,” Gillikin said.
Kings are bound to be caught incidentally but managers are encouraging they will be released by fishermen who will likely be able to target more abundant species.
“Once it's determined that we're going to meet those escapement goals then we're really praying that there will be opportunity for people to go out and get chum and reds,” Hoffman said.
New and unprecedented restrictions are already in place for this season. Whatever fishing opportunities will be available for fishermen will depend on how many kings return to the Kuskokwim.